Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Naked Lunch - William S. Burroughs

Summary: In a convoluted and disturbing string of events, a drug addict flees from the police. His journeys take him across the United States and down into Mexico and beyond. On his travels, he meets up with various members of the underground drug and homosexual cultures. Alongside the twisted narrative runs a counter story about the uses of mind control by governments and psychiatrists to manipulate, destroy and direct the masses. Told in lurid detail that disturbs and disgusts many readers, the novel presents a glimpse into the emerging counter cultures of the 1950s and gives interesting insights into how these forces effect the ongoing development of modern society. (Summary from; cover image from

My Review: Many of the books that end up on challenged and banned book lists leave people scratching their heads; few can find anything offensive enough about Harry Potter to comprehend banning it. Not so with Naked Lunch, perhaps the only masterpiece of modern literature ever to be banned from shipment through the U.S. Post Office. It has been burned. It has been banned in cities like Boston and Los Angeles and was the subject of a Massachussets Supreme Court obscenity case. Even today, it’s hard to imagine a school district even considering it for inclusion in a library long enough for parents challenge it.

What does a book have to do to get this sort of reaction? That’s the easy part. Naked Lunch has enough visceral violence, sex, sexual violence, general depravity, and drug use to make even the most jaded reader blanch. But Burrough’s masterpeice isn’t out for cheap shock value. Rather, the disturbing, surreal images serve to underscore the book’s cry for freedom from the invisible prisons of a culture that treats people as merely means to an end. It’s the revelation of our own everyday inhumanity, reflected back to us in grotesque and larger-than-life form, that makes this book hit home.

Naked Lunch is a great book. Not just a Great Book, but actually a fascinating, disturbing, mind-opening and gut-wrenching read. Naked Lunch is also a hard read. Much of it is written in Burrough’s signature “cut-up” style--the literary equivalent of impressionism, if Van Gogh were to paint his worst nightmares, tear the canvases to shreds, and glue them back together at random. Trying to trace the thin threads of theme and motif tying together words, sentences, and scenes quickly leaves the reader bewildered, mentally exhausted, and open to the full impact of the text’s delicate and dangerous poetry.

Star Rating: 5. Caution: This book doesn’t play nice; expect to be appalled.

Sum it up: If ever a novel begged to be banned by the powers that be, this is it. Strike a blow for your own freedom, and pick up a copy today! (Incidentally, the movie adaptation is no more understandable, but other than that it has little in common with the book. Give it a pass unless you're a fan of cinematic surrealism--in which case, you've probably already seen it.)

1 comment:

MindySue said...

I'm blanching, I'm blanching!!! Wow. This books Glad you liked it, but thanks for warning 95% of the general reading population away. YIKES.


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